When Jennifer DeVoe felt ill in early January, she didn’t think much of it.
Many of her family members had come down with a stomach virus after their time together for the holidays, so it didn’t seem worrisome.
“My whole family had been battling sickness,” the Edwardsburg, Michigan, resident said.
That first Saturday in January, her parents came over to watch her 16-month-old son, Jackson.
“I was getting ready for work,” DeVoe said. “I was in the shower and almost blacked out. I couldn’t brush my hair because I couldn’t catch my breath. I knew something wasn’t right, but I was still bound and determined to get to work.”
DeVoe, 36, an office manager at an Elkhart, Indiana, pharmacy, walked out to her car in the driveway.
“I could hardly make it,” she said. “I think my dad had an idea something was going on. He was going to drive me to the urgent care center so I could get fixed up and head to work.”
Worse than imagined
En route to the urgent care center in Dowagiac, Michigan, DeVoe’s condition worsened.
Her dad, a former volunteer firefighter, headed for the emergency room in Dowagiac instead. He rightly suspected heart problems.
“I passed out in the parking lot,” DeVoe said.
Medical staff wheeled her into the emergency room, then transferred her to a larger hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan. At that point, her heart functioned at only 5 percent. She wasn’t getting enough blood to her body.
“That night, they put in a balloon pump through my groin to help try to take the load off my heart,” she said.
The diagnosis: cardiogenic shock due to myocarditis. She basically had an acute viral infection and inflammation of her heart muscle.
“Myocarditis is not very common,” she said. “Something that would have just made you sick attacked my heart instead.”
DeVoe has no history of heart trouble. Her family members don’t, either.
She’s always been healthy and active.
The infection threatened not only her heart but her future. She wondered if she would be around to raise Jackson and her 14-year-old son, Dyllan.
“My heart was beating so fast it was like I had just run a marathon,” DeVoe said. “They did the balloon pump to try to help but it wasn’t working. From there they transferred me to Grand Rapids.”
DeVoe arrived at Spectrum Health Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center in the early morning hours of Jan. 7.
Doctors tried an Impella 2.5 machine to help circulate her blood and give her heart time to heal.
“It wasn’t doing what they wanted it to do,” she said. “In the meantime, they were doing a workup for a heart transplant, thinking they’d have to go that route eventually. It was so strange. In my head I wasn’t processing it. I was like, ‘No, that won’t happen.’ I had to remain positive and strong.”
But positive and strong doesn’t necessarily mean devoid of worry.
It creeps in when your heart—the same heart that has so much love for your sons, your parents, your friends and family—is failing you.
Every beat seems to echo in your head, until the echoes blur, just like the days blur. You wonder how much time you have left.
Tearing up, DeVoe spoke of the day she asked her sister to care for Jackson and Dyllan if she didn’t pull through.
‘Make sure my boys are OK’
The emotional side of her heart fully functioned, even if the physical side didn’t.
“I just remember looking at my sister and saying, ‘If something happens to me, please make sure my boys are OK,’” DeVoe said. “Being a single mom, I think that’s what helped pull me through because I thought, ‘I can’t leave these two little guys on their own.’”
The woman so used to providing for others found herself in intensive care.
She thought of her parents and all they were going through.
“I know my parents were having a hard time,” DeVoe said. “I’m 36. This is not something you expect. For my mom and dad, it was hard for them to see their child that way. I felt like I had been plucked out of my life.”
Her dad jokingly referred to her medication-laden IV pole as a Christmas tree.
Oh, how DeVoe hoped for a gift under that IV tree.
A gift of healing.
Marzia Leacche, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon with Spectrum Health Medical Group, switched DeVoe to an Impella 5.0, placed through the artery under her collarbone. The device pumped blood from her left ventricle into the rest of her body, allowing her heart to rest.
“With this device, Jennifer was walking around in the unit and attached to a pole with a console similar to being attached to an IV pole,” Dr. Leacche said.
Prior to this technology, mobility—and outcomes—weren’t always great.
“While patients recover from myocarditis, in the process they can get very sick and require very invasive mechanical support, such as lying in bed with cannulas in the groins,” Dr. Leacche said.
Dr. Leacche said some patients have died while having complications related to the invasive medical treatment.
The Impella may have saved DeVoe’s life.
“That’s what they called the Big Dog,” DeVoe said. “It went down into my heart and it was doing all the work so my heart could just rest and recover.”
She improved for about a week, but then plateaued.
“I wasn’t above the line of not needing the heart transplant,” she said. “I was getting really down in the dumps.”
Prayers cascaded upon her from family and friends. Time blurred again, and perhaps a miracle spun in the process.
‘A hooray moment’
On Jan. 20, an EKG showed vast improvement. Enough to have the Impella removed.
Shortly thereafter the medical team moved DeVoe out of the intensive care unit.
“It was one of those ‘hooray’ moments,” she said. “We couldn’t believe it. I believe it was a lot of family and friends praying. I had so many people behind me. My cardiologist here locally calls me the Miracle Lady.”
DeVoe said that same southern Michigan cardiologist told her most people don’t make it through with numbers like she had.
“I’m still amazed,” she said. “I’m still kind of speechless. I can’t believe it happened to me. But to make a full recovery … I believe in miracles.”
She did a lot of research on the Impella after she recovered.
“Between that and the doctors, they saved my life,” she said.
DeVoe will continue to take a heart medication for about a year. She only needs to see her cardiologist once a year.
Doctors told her she’s not at a great risk for another infection to strike her heart.
“No more than anyone else,” she said.
Dr. Leacche said she’s pleased with DeVoe’s progress.
“Jennifer is doing well and heart function has recovered to normal,” Dr. Leacche said. “Her prognosis is very good.”